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Our fear of getting it wrong stops us from getting it right

When I started working in the fire service, things weren’t exactly progressive. Most departments weren’t being headed by true leaders and even fewer people were working to change the culture and overall approach of service delivery. Where once we operated under the banner of ‘150 years of tradition unimpeded by progress’, the the emergency services is now doing incredible things and the future looks bright.

Despite all of this recent advancement, there’s still room for some polish, particularly when it comes to the integration of technology into our organizations. Over the years we’ve had the good fortune to speak with responders from across the globe and we’ve seen the emergence of a common theme. We’re too focussed on making the wrong choices around technology. This focus on making mistakes isn’t only unhealthy but it’s also out of step with the quick adoption of new and innovative solutions by those in other fields.

As an industry, we need to realize that this mentality almost always leads to friction and ultimately slows our rate of progress. New initiatives never get off the ground and momentum stalls. Not only does this thinking slow down our own organization’s rate of advancement but it contributes to less innovation throughout our industry. If we’re not pushing the boundaries, we’re not pushing others and that doesn’t serve anyone well.

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To be at the forefront of technology means we’re going to make mistakes. The key is anticipating this and being flexible enough to quickly move past whatever issue might arise. As first responders, we need to better embrace technology, we need to incorporate the latest and greatest hardware and software into mission critical roles and we need to be OK with the possibility that it won’t always unfold perfectly.

Regardless of the problem you’re working to solve, you’ll almost always be better off with a solution that ‘mostly’ works vs. the one that you’re still ‘analyzing’. So stop focussing on what might go wrong and look instead at the huge potential upside of being on the bleeding edge. Your organization will be better for it and so will the citizens you’re tasked to protect.

The prevention responsibility

Anyone who has spent time responding to the emergencies of others has likely had their share of face palm moments. What were those people thinking? What a bunch of idiots! It’s easy to become jaded over time and to pass judgement on the actions of our customers. The reality however is one that quite often boils down to demographics. What a firefighter might view as basic fire safety in the home may be completely foreign to someone who was raised in a lower income home or in a part of the world that places less emphasis on fire safety education. For search and rescue groups the lack of preparedness on the part of a subject might boil down to economics or it could be a lack of exposure to the outdoors and an appreciation for the many hazards that await the unprepared backcountry visitor.

Compounding the problem, prevention programs haven’t evolved much over the years. Most still rely on stickers, badges, colouring books and dull brochures to achieve prevention goals – a public relations exercise at best but more like cheap entertainment. Others opt for finger waving and yelling to try and ‘entice’ the public into taking personal responsibility and some produce very grave adverts highlighting all of the awful things that might happen should you fail to take the steps needed to protect yourself. As any responder will attest, these programs aren’t working. They never have and never will. Call volume continues to escalate and the same failings show up over and over again in the lead up to disaster and emergency events.

In an ever connected world and faced with an audience that officially has a shorter attention span than a Goldfish (seriously) we have our work cut out for us. Making matters worse, traditional preparedness programs have typically separated operational and prevention responsibilities which leaves a very small number of people handling the bulk of the prevention tasks. Those in operational roles generally view prevention as a job for others, an attitude that needs to change if we’re going to make meaningful progress on the prevention front. As first responders, we all have a responsibility to tackle prevention.

So what are we to do? For starters, we need to use different tools, we need to deliver content that is engaging and optimized for the busy lives of our customers. Your audience is on Instagram and Snapchat and you need to be there as well. Your content needs to be original and engaging. Stats and dull safety messaging simply don’t work. Fair or not, you’re competing against the best the web has to offer and you need to find ways to captivate your audience and once you have their attention, you’d best have something worth sharing.

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Should comedy play a role? Why not? As responders, we constantly use humour to deal with the dark aspects of our job and it’s a natural way to start a conversation with an audience that might otherwise overlook the need to prepare for low probability, high consequence events. Can you gamify the building of disaster preparedness kits? Of course you can. Could you build an engaging app for kids with prevention messages integrated into game play? Yes you could. At the end of the day we need to borrow heavily from outside of our industry and remember that it’s our imagination that is the limiting factor.

For those of us in operational roles, we need to take ownership of the many prevention opportunities that we have in the course of a day. It’s ultimately our job to raise the consciousness of our customers. Next time you find yourself on a call rolling your eyes in the face of apparent stupidity take minute out of your day and remember that your customer didn’t plan on having this happen. Make a genuine effort to explain where they screwed up and provide them with the information needed to ensure they don’t become repeat customers. Better yet, turn them into a safety evangelist like North Shore Rescue did in 2012. We’ll all be better for it.

Fort McMurray Fire – Free Accounts

We’ve been on the front lines at many large interface fires with substantial structure loss and words can’t do justice to the level of devastation that can done in mere minutes. These types of events not only cause immediate property loss, risk life and limb but leave a mark on the landscape and on residents that can take years to recover from.

We know from experience that internal communication with various agencies and volunteers as well as communication with evacuees is critical in the days and weeks ahead. We also know that many traditional tools aren’t well suited to the task. For this reason and because it’s the neighbourly thing to do, we’re offering free Connect Rocket and Connect Rocket Community accounts to anyone in the fire affected area or in the path of this large and destructive wildfire.

There will be no charge to set-up or maintain the accounts for the duration of the incident. Account holders will pay only for usage, billed at our cost (much of which we expect can be recovered from the Provincial Government). At such time as the risk has passed and the communication burden has eased, the accounts can be decommissioned at no charge.

Our team is available to configure accounts immediately. If you’d like to explore this option for your community, please call us at 1 (888) 256-3009 for assistance.

Use Roll Call to get your response off to a strong start.

Roll Call is a great feature we delivered a couple of years ago that allows your members to respond to messages they receive from Connect Rocket. You members can respond to Roll Call via a simple text message or using their telephone keypad. That means your members don’t need an app, a username or a password to use Roll Call – they just need to be able to send a text message or punch a number on their telephone keypad. This makes using Roll Call simple, safe and fast.

As with all of our features, Roll Call has been built in a way that allows tremendous flexibility with implementation. We have customers that use Roll Call to obtain immediate insight into which of their members are responding to calls. Using Roll call in this manner allows senior personnel to deal with more pressing issues while Connect Rocket aggregates all of the responses in the early stage of an incident. When it’s convenient to check on available resources, a quick look at the Roll Call yields critical information on member availability.

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Roll Call is also used to do status checks on members on a periodic basis and can be used for polling your members. There’s no one way to use Roll Call and our customers are constantly finding new and innovative ways to improve their operations with this great feature.

If you’re not using Roll Call, connect with us and we’ll show you how your organization can benefit from this great tool.

Customer collaboration: Squamish Search and Rescue

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In 2013 we began to work more closely with several of our customers in the search and rescue (’SAR’) field to develop the fastest and most reliable tasking tool available.

One team that contributed their ideas and expertise was Squamish Search and Rescue. Squamish is located in beautiful B.C. Canada and is generally regarded as one of the busiest SAR teams in BC. with the responsibility of protecting the outdoor recreation capital of Canada. Providing a wide range of services including; ground search and rescue, first aid, Helicopter External Transport Systems, technical rope, swift water and mountain rescue – Squamish does it all and in some very complex terrain.

Like many SAR teams, Squamish relied on a combination of pagers, text and a call centre to receive initial activations from tasking agencies. While it was and remains common practice, Squamish knew that reliance on middle men and back-and-forth workflows were at the root of the often extensive delays associated with receiving pages and activating their team. By fielding teams faster, Squamish knew that the chance of a positive outcome increased significantly. Emphasis was also placed on a direct connection between Tasking Agencies and SAR Managers to eliminate misinformation, a material issue when dealing through middle men.

Discussion, debate and several proofs of concept eventually led to the development of Tasking Lines. Tested and refined for over a year, Tasking Lines provide an instant connection between Tasking Agencies and SAR Managers for the sole purpose of passing information quickly and facilitating rapid conversation between key decision makers. The most notable gain from this collaborative effort has been a 95% reduction in the amount of time required to receive an initial tasking and activate the team. This is a huge time savings, pioneered by a team that understands the value of moving incident information efficiently. Squamish contributed countless hours of expertise and provided ongoing feedback and input throughout the testing phase to ensure we got it right and now others can benefit from their efforts.

If you’d like to see if the hard work of Squamish Search and Rescue could help your organization, contact us to arrange a demo and/or a free trial.


learn more about Squamish Search and Rescue via their website, Twitter or by following them on Instagram.